Last month marked a historic moment in Jordan's broadcast scene when the Jordanian United TV Broadcasting Company (ATV), the country's first independent, private TV station began test broadcasts. The US $35 million project, which included the design, planning and integration of a turnkey TV station was undertaken by UK-based systems integrator, db Broadcast.
Targeted at Jordanian viewers, ATV is a family entertainment channel with a mix of news, children's shows, films, sports, drama series and other programmes. "When it goes on air, it will be an untraditional media platform in Jordan," claims Mohannad Al-Khatib, managing director of ATV. "ATV will seek to provide content that suits our local communities."
While Hollywood movies, drama series and other programmes will be acquired for the channel, ATV has also built four studios at its headquarters in Jordan for in-house production. Two 200m studios will be used for talk shows and other rental purposes while a 400m studio and a 700m studio have been designed for news as well as the production of big dramas and live programmes. Already, the bigger studios are being used to produce ATV's first Jordanian drama series for the month of Ramadan.
The channel has equipped its studios with 14 E-30 Sony cameras. Lights for the studios have been sourced primarily from LSI and DeSisti. ATV has also invested in 15 XDCAMs for electronic news gathering (ENG) as it has a fairly big news operation. "ATV is not a dedicated news channel. However, we have a healthy percentage of news and current affairs. Slowly, we expect this percentage to increase to at least 35% to 40% of our programming grid," clarifies Al-Khatib.
As part of these efforts, ATV will have terminals in Iraq for the Iraqi community in Jordan as well as three bureaus in Palestine, confirms Al-Khatib. "We will also rely on a network of stringers in countries like Lebanon where we don't have a constant presence. We cannot ignore what is happening in Lebanon; at the same time, we don't have a permanent bureau there."
ATV's news operations will be carried out on AP's ENPS newsroom system. The channel has bought more than 100 licenses from AP for its news operations. Keisuke Kayaba, sales manager for ENPS, Middle East/Asia says this is AP's third largest client in the Middle East after ERTU in Egypt and CNBC Arabiya in Dubai.
"ENPS will be used as the primary editorial tool, for the research and writing of scripts and the building of programme running orders at this facility," he says.
One significant aspect of the ATV installation is that it has kept its news and production domains separate.
Philip Keeler, who was the main systems designer on the project and represents db Broadcast, says ATV took this approach because it felt it would be easier to manage the media if it separated the two domains.
"ATV decided not to go for a full-blown channel management solution for cost reasons. At the same time, it has plans to expand in the future. I suppose this way, it can expand the two halves separately without one affecting the other," he explains.
Different systems will manage ATV's production and news domains. For news ingest, the channel uses Harris servers, which make both high resolution and low-resolution files of the footage. Whenever the news is ingested, the ATV news team can access the proxy footage from the Harris server for browsing and editing purposes.
As a backup, ATV has also put in place a Pebble Beach transcoder that makes low-res copies of the news files. This means that whenever there is a high-res clip on the Harris server, the transcoder will simultaneously make a low-res copy for archiving to its own storage.
Within the production domain, the channel primarily relies on a Pebble Beach server system. The playout and transmission for this area is controlled by Pebble Beach's Neptune system, which interfaces with an MSA Focus scheduling system, says Samir Isbaih, customer support engineer, Pebble Beach.
"Whenever data is entered into the Neptune system, it automatically updates the content on the MSA Focus scheduling system. Frame accurate add on logs are sent to the MSA Focus system, and this helps the latter to find out how many times the ad/event has been played," explains Isbaih.
Apart from this, Pebble Beach's Archive Media Manager controls the archive tape library in both news and production based on pre-defined tape and location rules. This means that the system is automated to take feeds from different sources, such as Reuters and AP, for instance, and store them in tapes demarcated for each source, and place them in their respective storage locations.
db Broadcast's Keeler says the choice of equipment was based on regional popularity, ease of use and support.
"We went with well known solutions in the market. ATV didn't want to over complicate and break enormous amounts of new ground. They wanted systems that would preferably be straight out of the box and cost effective while also being able to do what they wanted," he says.
Hussein Saraireh, director of Operation & Engineering, ATV's technical head adds that the channel preferred to use systems that were commonly used and supported in Jordan Media City (JMC). "Take the example of the Harris (formerly Leitch) servers. Several clients in JMC use this so there is ample support available for these servers here. This is one reason why we have also invested in the same systems," he explains.
ATV has been careful to ensure that its investment is fully scaleable and HD-ready should it require to change its format in the future, confirms Keeler.
"As a systems integrator, unless told otherwise, we build almost everything now to be HD ready. While the channel is presently geared for SD transmission, the cabling and the infrastructure is built to take HD over a certain distance. Also, most of the equipment at ATV is upgradeable to HD."
ATV also has ambitious plans to expand to more channels in the future and the facility has ample space to accommodate these plans, confirms Hussein. "The system we have now can be expanded to four channels in the future. In fact, we can go on air with a second channel almost immediately," he says.
The station has invested in a Sony Petasite with 200 cartridges that can store approximately 8000 hours of content.
Although ATV is now almost ready to go on air, the channel has had its fair share of challenges. For one, it took the channel more than two years to go on air since it was first announced. "This is a problem with most sites where a building is being constructed newly for a TV facility. Delays are inevitable. In our business, we are normally waiting for the builders to finish their work," explains Keeler.
For db Broadcast, the environment was not conducive for installation. "This was a building site. As a company, we are not comfortable installing equipment when construction is going on because we are exposing our customers' equipment to a less than ideal environment," says Keeler.
Secondly, sourcing staff for a TV station that has more than 330 people on its payroll wasn't easy. "Finding the right people on the engineering side was a big challenge. As Jordan has only one other TV station, we had to look for professionals in other regional TV stations," comments ATV's Hussein, who himself came in from Al Jazeera English.
ATV's most recent challenge has been completing the necessary government paperwork to go on air. Until then, the channel has been temporarily suspended from transmission.
In the meantime, the channel, which began as the property of Mohammed Alayyan, chairman of ATV and a Jordanian businessman with various other media investments, will soon be made a public share holding company.
"We have not yet put it on the stock market but we will. This allows us to make the viewer a partner in the project. At the same time, it affords more transparency. People will know where the funding is coming from and how the company is run and financed," says Al-Khatib.
ATV currently has more than 330 employees at its headquarters in Jordan. "A third of our workforce is in the news section so we have a sizeable news operation. The rest are distributed between programming, operations, engineering and administration," explains Al-Khatib.
The Jordanian channel will rely on advertising for its revenue. "More than $200 million is spent annually on advertising in Jordan and 85% of this goes to print. We have a good chance of capturing a good size of this market in the future," Al-Khatib. "As the first private TV station in Jordan, we hope to bring something new and different that will have a positive impact on our community while also entertaining them."
Cameras - Sony BVP-E30
Pedestals -Camera Dynamics Ltd
Teleprompts - Autoscript
Lighting - LSI
Luminaire - Desisti Steadicam
Furniture - Knotty Ash
Multi viewers - Miranda
Video switcher - Ross
60" screens - Panasonic
Digital audio desk - Calrec
Newsroom Automation ENPS
Editors - Harris
Graphics workstations - Pixel Power
Distribution equipment - Pro-bel
Router - Pro-bel
Talkback - Vitec Group
Nexio Transmission server - Harris
Automation - Pebble Beach
Gigawave Wireless System for D-CAM-BVP-E30
Sony Storage Management System CSM-200